Columbus attorney David Owen shows off the advertising poster for the 1907 "foot ball game" between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The poster was found while the building owned by his later father, Ben Owen, was being cleaned out for the new owner. The memorable 1907 game was just the sixth meeting between the rivals. The two meet for the 114th time on Thursday evening in Starkville. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
November 22, 2017 11:03:49 AM
Thursday, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will meet for the 114th time in football when the Bulldogs and Rebels collide at Davis Wade Stadium on the MSU campus.
A lot has changed since those early days, of course.
Today, the schools spend enormous amounts of money across numerous platforms to market their programs. But in the early days of the rivalry, getting the word out on a game that was just beginning to establish a foothold in the public eye was limited to print.
Probably no one has better evidence of that than Columbus attorney David Owen.
There in his law practice of Fifth Street North is an advertising poster for the 1907 game between what was Mississippi State, known then and until 1932 as Mississippi A&M College, and the University of Mississippi.
It was just the seventh meeting between the two schools and just the third time the game was played on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday marks the 22nd time the game will be played on the holiday).
The poster reads:
Foot Ball Game
Mississippi A&M College
Jackson, Miss. November 28, 1907
Roger Larsen ran across the poster tucked within a hand-made wooden box as he was helping clean out the building on Second Avenue North where David Owen's dad, Ben, and grandfather, Frank, had practiced with law partner Charles "Chief" Garnett, who died in the 1970s. The building was sold after Ben Owen's death in 2007.
Larsen said Garnett, a life-long bachelor who lived for more than 40 years in the Gilmer Hotel, was a gun collector, so when he noticed the hand-made wooden box and looked inside, he thought he might find a vintage pistol. But the box was empty, aside from the poster.
"I'm thinking the poster was used as a liner in the box for a gun he had probably sent off for repairs," Larsen said. "When I saw the poster and realized what it was, I figured it would be something that David would be interesting in having."
Owen certainly was.
"I thought, 'This is really cool,'" Owen said.
The poster, already more than 100 years old by the time it came into his possession, was in remarkably good shape.
"I took it to Charley George and he mounted and framed it," Owen said.
The poster was mounted on a maroon background. It was supposed to have been mounted with both a maroon (Mississippi State's colors) and red (Ole Miss' colors), a nod to Owen's connection to both schools. Although Owen is a Mississippi State graduate, he earned his law degree from Ole Miss law school and is a Rebels fan.
"When I was a kid I went to a Mississippi State game when Charlie Shira was coach," he said. "They were terrible. So I've been rooting for Ole Miss ever since, even though I did get my degree at State."
Owen said the poster came into his possession about eight years ago, a couple of years after the 100th anniversary of the game.
Even so, the poster is a memento from what is probably the most fascinating game in the long rivalry, a game noted in two books on the history of college football.
The game was played at state fairgrounds on a miserably cold day on a ridiculously muddy field. The conditions were so bad that neither team could generate much of an offense. At halftime, the score was 0-0.
This is where the story takes an amazing turn.
According to accounts, before the second half began, Ole Miss coach Frank A. Mason brought out an urn filled with whiskey-laced coffee in an attempt to keep his players warm. Mississippi State scored three second-half touchdowns (which were counted as five points in that era) and defeated the warm, but presumably wobbly, Rebels, 15-0, to tie the series at 3-3 with one tie.
After the game, Ole Miss players blamed Mason for the loss.
The players' disdain for their coach was mutual. Asked by a reporter if his team planned to return to Oxford after the game, Mason famously said, "Yes, the team is going north at 11 o'clock. I'm going in another direction, and hope I never see them again!"
He didn't. It was his last game as the Rebels' coach.
Thursday, the No. 16 Bulldogs (8-3) are a 16-point favorite over Ole Miss (5-6) as they try to cut into the Rebels' 63-44-6 lead in the series, looking for their seventh win in the past 11 meetings.
On a night when the temperature is expected to dip well into the 30s, there may be some warmth-inducing whiskey flowing in Starkville, but it won't be flowing along the players' benches this time.
Owen, meanwhile, won't be attending the game. He plans to spend the holiday in New Orleans.
"I guess I'm like that Ole Miss coach from 1907," he said. "I'm going the other direction."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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